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Literature and Critical Theory

April 16th - May 17th

Saturdays and Tuesdays


Session One: 4:30pm - 6:30pm

Session Two: 7pm - 9pm


Course convener: A. M. Awad


Philosophers have inquired about the purpose of literature for thousands of years. At times, they have given it a privileged access to truth; at others, they have banished it from the public. Modernity offers a new context for this tradition of inquiry. With the development of the social and natural sciences in the 19th century, some have argued that literature - and the humanities at large - are no longer valuable. But while the sciences have given us facts, describing the way things are, they have left us without answers to questions of meaning. How something works does not explain what it means.


In this seminar, we will ask whether literature offers us knowledge about the world in ways which modern science cannot. Our framework will be critical theory, a dazzling philosophical approach based on the works of Marx and Freud. In critiquing how our scientific knowledge has objectified the world, critical theory has invigorated the possibility of other forms of knowledge. What do these forms look like? How can we access them through literature and literary interpretation? Readings include Kafka (German), Borges (Spanish), Kanafani (Arabic), and a selection of contemporary authors, as well as theoretical texts by Lukacs, Adorno, Rancière, Jameson, and Mufti.


Tuition: 240 JDs. Scholarships available

Identity Politics: History, Theory, Critique

April 17th - May 18th

Sundays and Wednesdays


Session One: 4:30pm - 6:30pm

Session Two: 7pm - 9pm


Course convener: A. M. Awad


The rise of identity politics in Western liberal democracy has transformed how individuals relate to themselves and to their communities. Increasingly, such politics is affecting a variety of institutions, social movements, and individual mindsets in the Arab world. As the content and form of religious, ethnic, and gender identities are reconfigured, new ways of life are created and others are erased. The resultant tumult has led to profound identity crises in cities like Amman.


In this seminar, we will engage the history of identity politics - from its foundation in liberal democracy to its cultivation as a trope of liberation in the United Sates - before assessing its currency in the Arab world. From neoliberal development and the creation of neocolonial institutions to the strengthening of bourgeois individualism, what kind of world is identity politics enforcing, and what does it leave behind?


Theoretically, we will challenge the concept of identity itself, addressing the philosophical issues of essentialism, ontology, and community. In turn, we will grapple with the possibility of alternative frameworks for liberation. Reading material includes theoretical texts (Foucault, Fanon, Spivak, Butler, Said, and Massad); recent anthropological and political studies from the United States and Jordan; and media from everyday life.


Tuition: 240 JDs. Scholarships available



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Psychoanalysis: History, Theory, Practice

August 6 - September 3



1pm - 4pm


6pm - 9pm (closed)


Course convener: A. M. Awad


A hundred years ago, Freud predicted that psychoanalysis would follow the Copernican revolution and Darwin’s theory of evolution in dramatically reordering the role of the human in the world. Since then, psychoanalysis has come to influence the development of nearly every part of modern life: from political programs, cultural critique, and aesthetic practices to the basis of who we think we are.

In this intensive seminar, we will begin by surveying Freud’s primary work, along with that of his most important successors: Jacques Lacan, Melanie Klein, and Donald Winnicott. Having built a foundational understanding, we will engage a number of ways in which psychoanalysis was celebrated, appropriated, and critiqued by postcolonial scholars, art historians, and cultural critics. In turn, we will discuss the usefulness and limitations of psychoanalytic tools for our own time.

Throughout our classes every Saturday evening, we will also reflect on the dynamic of the seminar, figuring the relations between theory and practice, pedagogy and analysis, as we collectively orient our attention to Amman's relationship to the topic at hand. What critical tools can we develop from such an orientation? What collective practices can we extend outside the seminar?

In addition to psychoanalytic writing and case studies, the course material includes critical readings by Michel Foucault, Franz Fanon, Edward Said, and Eve Sedgwick; aesthetic media, including a film, an art installation, and two short stories; and objects from everyday life in Amman. (Readings are in English while discussions will be in English and Arabic.)

Tuition: 240 JDs. Scholarships available

Islam and Critical Theory

Session One

August 2 - August 30

Sundays and Tuesdays

5pm - 7pm

Session Two

August 3 - August 31

Mondays and Wednesdays

7pm - 9pm

Course convener: A. M. Awad

During the twentieth century, “Islam" was constructed to fit the structures of Western modernity: from Saudi Arabia, where the European nation-state is the framework for Islamic governance, to cities like Amman, where bourgeois culture dictates the form of religious practice. The past twenty years have intensified this process, as neocolonial and neoliberal development grew in size and scope.

The modern construction of Islam is supported by a particular intellectual tradition, which assumes that modernity is natural and desirable and that Islam must accommodate it. This tradition continues to operate not only in mainstream media and international development, but also in the social sciences. For the most part, it has been internalised by a spectrum of conservative, liberal, and secular Muslims today.

In this seminar, we will challenge the basis for this tradition. During the first half, we will dispute the assumption that modernity is natural and desirable, analysing its inherent limitations and internal contradictions using Critical Theory. What is the link between modernity and the catastrophes of colonialism, capitalist exploitation, and the devaluation of human life? In this inquiry, we will also reflect on the "Christian" character of secular modernity.

If modernity is not as natural or desirable as it seems, then how might pre-modern ways of life inform it? In the second half of the seminar, we will follow recent Arab scholars in using the history of Islam as a resource for a critique of modern life. Our focus will be on the role of governance, community, and morality. To what degree might pre-modern ways of life emancipate us from the stronghold of the present, including modern movements within Islam?

Throughout the course, we will grapple with a series of philosophical questions: what are the epistemological limits to accessing pre-modern ways of life? If access is granted, how might such ways of life transform the present considering our entrenchment within modern structures? Course readings include Weber, Adorno, Asad, Hallaq, and Massad; an array of news material; and anthropological studies from the United States and Jordan.

Tuition: 240 JDs. Scholarships available

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FALL 2016

Aesthetic Theory

November 19 - December 17

Saturdays (5pm - 8pm)




November 20 - December 18

Sundays (6pm - 9pm)

Course convener: A. M. Awad​

"It is self-evident that nothing about art is self-evident anymore," begins Adorno's Aesthetic Theory, "not its inner world, not its relation to the world, not even its right to exist." And yet, despite this declaration, art seems evident everywhere we look. It hangs in galleries, curated by experts. It's disciplined in the classroom and practiced in the studio. It's on the streets of Amman, sponsored by foundations or sanctioned by the state. In popular culture, art avails itself to everyone for personal use, sometimes even liberation.


What, then, does Adorno mean?

In this seminar, we will diagnose the life of art though the lens of Aesthetic Theory. Beginning with Kant and Hegel, we will ask: What is the purpose of art? Is it ideological, metaphysical, sensual? Can we know? In turn, we will engage the critical interventions of the 20th century, in which the fate of art swings from interrogating modernity as a whole to being commodified by consumer culture. What is art in relation to freedom and suffering, to market society?


Each week, we will juxtapose history with the present moment, reflecting on artistic production in the Levant and internationally. Do certain works evade Adorno's critique, opening new avenues of practice? We will also grapple with the limitations of our theoretical framework, figuring the contingency of its origin. How might the Arab context - whose inheritance has not been evenly modernised - allow for an alternative to modern aesthetics?


Course material includes theoretical texts (Nietzsche, Adorno, and Ranciere, in addition to Kant and Hegel), as well as a variety of aesthetic phenomenon.


Tuition: 240 JDs. Scholarships available

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